Bob Balaban on Being a Character Actor: “It’s what I do and who I am and I really enjoy it”

Bob Balaban Character Actor

With Glenn Close and John Lithgow in the cast of Broadway’s A Delicate Balance, it’s okay if you didn’t notice that veteran actor Bob Balaban is also in the cast. Balaban, who is probably best known for his roles in Christopher Guest‘s mockumentaries and for his supporting roles in dozens of other films, has returned to Broadway after a 26-year absence. The always-working actor spoke to IndieWire about acting for the stage is like versus acting for film and why he’s happy to be called a “character actor.”

One of the aspects of the stage that Balaban embraces is how the play changes every performance. He explains, “One of things I like the most about being in a play is the discipline of the play—the doing of the same thing over and over a sixth time, eight times a week, start thinking here, this is how you do that. It gets to be, to me, a wonderful routine and it never gets boring. As you know, it’s live theater. Every show is a different show. Truthfully, if you told me what night you came, I could probably flip back in my memory wheel, although I probably don’t go back more than a week or two, and go, ‘Oh, that Wednesday matinee was really good.’ They’re all different shows. It’s alive. The audience is different and you’re different as much as it seems the same to everybody.

However, Balaban cautions that audience response isn’t always the best barometer of how “good” a play is, since material and audience varies performance-to-performance. He says, “I find that it’s very dangerous to think that the show is good or bad depending on how loud people are in the audience. Actually, when I think of myself, some of my favorite times I went to see a comedy, the cast will tell me, ‘Oh, nobody laughed today, we thought you hated it.’ It’s like, no, it was especially good because I could hear the performances, they were alive, they were wonderful. And when you’re in an audience, it’s nice to laugh and have fun, but you don’t judge your enjoyment of anything.”

Nonetheless, Balaban admits that he likes doing both theater and film, adding, “There are some people I know that love being in movies, but would never even think about being on the stage and vice versa. I find them both a challenge as I find everything. But, I really enjoy them both I must say. They’re very different animals as you know.

Balaban admits that he loves the “character actor” label he has proudly worn as a supporting actor — mostly because if a project fails he is never the first to be blamed! He points out, “First of all, if I didn’t embrace it, it would be sad for me because it’s not like I checked the box that said character actor instead of leading man who makes 20 million dollars a picture. [Laughs.] It’s what I do and who I am and I really enjoy it. I get to do a lot of different things. If the movie is successful, I share pleasantly in the success, but it doesn’t change my life particularly and if it falls on its ass, it’s not like nobody is gonna hire me again. It wasn’t my fault.”

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